Principles of Operation (was: LANGUAGE SUBTAG REQUEST FORM, Erzgebirgisch)

John Cowan cowan at
Tue Jan 29 18:41:39 CET 2008

Ciarán � Duibhín scripsit:

> The impossibility of the task we are attempting comes over clearly in Doug's
> concise description of it.  I think we need to look at the interpretation of
> "de".  First of all, if "de" really means Standard German, which is the
> officially defined language, it includes no dialects and cannot have variant
> subtags.


It's true that Standard German does not include any "dialects"
(Mundarten) as the word is technically used in German dialectology.
That does not mean that it lacks varieties.  There are distinctions of
register, of class, of gender, and (most to the point here) of region.
There is a great difference between "X-ish" (where X is a dialect region)
and "Standard German with an X accent".

I am most familiar with the case of Italian, but I believe this is true
anywhere where there is a widely spoken standard language that has not
overtaken the competing dialects, as is common throughout the developed
world.  There are exceptions, like Norwegian (where the two standards
are written-only, and the dialects are regularly used in speech) and the
English of the U.S., where true dialects have never developed (other
than AAVE) and there are only accents of the local standard variety.
(The English of England is approaching this point.)

> But we seem to be trying to interpret "de" as meaning some group of
> dialects which includes Standard German.  It is defined by exclusion,

It is defined by mutual intelligibility with the standard.

> It doesn't have a usable name (it is not Middle German, it is not
> High German),

Mandarin Chinese doesn't have a usable name either -- all its names have
political implications -- but people do talk about it one way or another.
"Standard German" is a perfectly usable name, and if germanophones are
content to use "Hochdeutsch" in two different senses, why not?

See the ice-cream koan.

John Cowan <cowan at>   
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